Even though I knew we were going to be in Sonoma, not Napa, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to eat at a Thomas Keller restaurant, especially because it’ll probably be years before we’ll be “in the neighborhood” again. I know we have Bouchon Bakery in NYC, but it’s not quite the same as a regular sit-down restaurant. The drive from Healdsburg to Yountville was actually over an hour, but it was a pretty scenic trip past rolling hills of vineyards. While I would have loved to eat at the French Laundry, logistically, and budget-wise, Ad Hoc made more sense for us. Originally we had made a reservation for a party of ten, but our group dwindled down to four, which fortunately was not an issue.
I was actually surprised by the decor of the restaurant when we walked in. I don’t know why, but in my mind, I was picturing something a little more casual and countrified. Instead, it was a beautifully modern space with tall ceilings, large windows, and a contemporary vibe. Even though we had a somewhat early reservation, the place was packed and the atmosphere was hopping.
The menu at Ad Hoc changes every day, but whatever is on the menu that day is what you get. There is usually a salad to start, a main course with the option to add a supplemental dish, a cheese course, and dessert. The meal costs $52, plus an extra supplement cost if you choose to add the supplemental dish, and you get everything. It’s all served family style, with enough portions for everyone at the table to have a healthy serving.
On the night that we dined there, the salad course featured a gorgeous mix of little gem lettuce, shaved fennel, apricots, radishes, pickled red onions, and ricotta, with a chamomile vinaigrette. The gem lettuce, which is similar to baby romaine, was unbelievably fresh, with such a crisp texture and intense lettuce flavor. The radishes fortunately were not too bitter, and the fennel was pretty mild as well. The apricots were a great addition – sweet and juicy, while the dollops of ricotta added a nice creaminess to the greens. We all thought the salad was slightly under-dressed, until we discovered that they had brought us a gravy boat of extra dressing that no one had noticed until we were almost finished eating. Oh well. The vegetables were so fresh anyway that we were sort of glad to have tasted them in all their semi-naked glory.
The main course was grilled hanger steak, which was nicely browned on the outside and perfectly medium rare on the inside. The steak was topped with wilted mustard greens, fried polenta, bell pepper stew, and turnip agrodolce. The mustard greens were soft but not overcooked, and the slight bitterness of the turnips was counteracted by the sweet bell peppers. My favorite part of the dish, aside from the steak, was the fried polenta, which had a perfectly crisp shell and a creamy center. It was a hearty, homey dish and they definitely didn’t skimp on the meat. We wound up boxing up the leftovers.
The supplemental dish was shrimp scampi, which we added to our meal without hesitation (the additional cost was $16). It was a good call, as the shrimp were perfectly cooked and the pasta was clearly homemade, with chewy strands that clung to the well balanced scampi sauce. The dish wasn’t overly garlicky and had just the right amount of acid.
The cheese course was the Lamb Chopper from Cyprus Grove, a sheep’s milk cheese that has a mild gamey flavor to it. It’s a hard cheese but texturally smooth, and it was served toasted cashews and honey. The sweetness of the honey really brought out the tang of the sheep’s milk. It was a nice palate cleansing course.
Dessert was ice cream sandwiches with sweet corn ice cream between shortbread cookies, rolled in blackberries. They were impossibly messy (the ice cream squeezed out the back when you bit into the cookies, and the blackberry juice got all over our hands), but they were delicious, whimsical, and just plain fun to eat. The shortbread cookies tasted like sugar cookies, though not too sugary, and the ice cream had a subtle hint of corn flavor. I was hoping to taste more of the corn, but the sandwich was just the perfect amount of sweetness to end the gluttonous meal.
Immediately after our meal, we had kind of mixed emotions about the dinner at Ad Hoc. The food was really good – seasonal, well prepared, and plentiful. But there was nothing that knocked our socks off. Everything was properly seasoned and tasted great, but it was simple, homey fare, and I think we were expecting something a little more extraordinary from a Thomas Keller restaurant. In hindsight though, it was our own preconceived notions that had us a little disappointed at the end of the meal. Thinking back, we truly did enjoy our meal, and each course was amazing in its own right. The salad was unbelievably fresh, the steak was expertly cooked, as were the sides, the shrimp scampi was nicely balanced, the cheese course was simple but delicious, and the ice cream sandwiches put smiles on all of our faces. It was a meal I would happily eat again, and a complete bargain considering the quality of the food and the size of the portions. If you’re expecting more composed dishes and creative combinations, then this isn’t the place. But if you’re looking for uncomplicated, straightforward, and perfectly executed food that is also unbelievably tasty, don’t hesitate to make a reservation at Ad Hoc.
6476 Washington St.